t’s 10 a.m. and already sweltering when Southlands destination manager Christine Grange dons a white suit that looks a lot like something one might wear to handle hazardous substances. Armed in her protective gear, she and Boundary Bay Bees keeper and researcher Janet Wilson head towards the 25 colonies—home to roughly 60,000 bees—to see if the introduction of new queens had been successful.
Wilson uses a handheld smoker to calm the bees down. Then, Wilson and Grange pop the tops of the hives to check if the insects are healthy—which they are, Wilson declares. “When not in their hives, the bees forage on the blackberry bushes tucked amongst the large trees behind us,” she says. “I’ve been a beekeeper for 15 years, and I have been a Southlands agricultural partner for 10 years.”
Century Group’s Southlands is a unique agri-hood master-planned community in Delta. Based on the principles of agricultural urbanism—an approach that combines numerous food-related activities including small farms, shared gardens, farmers’ markets, and agricultural processing into a walkable community—Southlands establishes farm-to-table living through a carefully crafted, urban-agrarian experience that celebrates farming and educates people about the food they eat.
At the heart of this movement is the Grange Centre for Farming & Food. The Grange is housed in a three-storey white building; the main level features community desk rental spaces, a kitchen, and seating, while upstairs is where Grange (a purely coincidental, albeit fitting, last name) and her part-time assistant have their offices. Besides being the go-to person for any issues that might arise with Southlands’ agricultural partners, Grange runs and oversees the various community programs, such as educational workshops, local non-profit fundraisers, Southlands-hosted events, and other occasions held at the onsite Red Barn. “Eventually, we will host long-table dinners, cooking classes, and offer farm tours from the Red Barn,” explains Grange, adding proudly that the space is fully booked each weekend until 2024. If that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she also manages the allotment garden plot rentals available at Southlands. “Right now we have 96, and most of them are rented to Southlands residents and other local residents,” she says. “We are expanding the allotment garden program because it has been so successful—beyond what we originally expected.”
The Grange’s bottom level is a hub reserved for organic community farmers. “This is where the farmers come to bring their produce to wash and prep for the Southlands Farmers’ Market, which is held on Saturdays in Market Square,” says Grange. “Four-hundred-and-twenty-seven acres were donated to the City of Delta, of which about 275 are used for conventional crop farming, and another 50 acres to Southlands community farm gardens, which produce several different organic crops and fruit trees.” The Grange features the Southlands community-supported agriculture program, which includes the Delta Community Farm: a group of local plant-lovers who came together to garden in a communal space provided by Century Group.
Long-time members John Woolliams and Evelyn Funk were early supporters of the Southlands development, and were thrilled to be offered garden space on the property. They explain that their non-profit group operates using the same principles as community-sharing gardens: everyone works together to plant, weed, water, and harvest their crops. Rather than simply maintaining their own individual plots, foods produced from the garden and the fruit trees are shared among members and others outside of the organization, such as the Delta Food Bank.
“We toil the gardens from February to November,” says Funk, adding that there are currently 25 members, the youngest being 16. “We grow everything from beans, corn, potatoes, peas, and garlic to cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, and raspberries, to name some.” A prosperous and admirable endeavour, to be sure; this is community-building at its finest, and most delicious.